There is no simple answer.

This isn’t an infomercial exercise program or diet with easy answers and timeframes. This is life lived in the shadow of death. I have yet to experience a step-by-step guide that says, “do this and the pain will go away in just 12 easy days.”

Benjamin Lean into painThis is life lived in the shadow of death. Loss is the most challenging experience I believe I have ever faced. There isn’t a simple roadmap that navigates the Afterloss in one specific way that works for everybody. Each person has to find his or her own rhythm and time.

After the last of my family had died I entered the hardest time in my life. I thought I could never experience anything more painful than helpless than watching the ones I love slip through my fingertips. But I was wrong. It was after they had all died that left me leaning into wave after wave of pain and sorrow.

There were days when the pain was so debilitating I thought that was all I had left. I felt like one big raw nerve. Every step, every breath hurt. I don’t know what was worse – trying to go to sleep into the nightmares or trying to wake up into the nightmare.

The only thing I knew to do was to lean into everything, to not close my heart and to unconditionally feel whatever I felt, including the pain – especially the pain. Throughout my family’s lives I had two goals – to never distance myself in any way from them and to go the distance in that openness no matter what the cost. I’m still unfolding the consequences of not distancing and going the distance.

It is almost nineteen years since I began my journey into the Afterloss in earnest. At some point along the path the question came, “When will the pain ever end?” transformed into, “When will the pain ever change?”

When I found myself utterly alone in my Afterloss, I made the conscious choice to continue to stay open to life. It was here that I found the answer to the second question.

Somewhere along the line in my Afterloss the intensity of the pain metamorphosed into an underlying ache of missing them.

As I have leaned into this perpetual underlying ache I have discovered that I can live a full life of love and joy, in many ways not in spite of my pain and sorrow, but because of the way the pain expanded my heart.

At one time, many years into this exploration of loss, I thought that if I didn’t feel this intense pain I was going to lose them, or even betray them. I kept hearing that it was time for me to “move on” and get back into life.

But there is no time and there is no moving on.

What I needed to do was integrate and incorporate the beauty of their lives into a new life.

I have accepted that I will always miss them. It’s simply a part of the landscape of my life. I long for them, still cry at the touch of certain memories and feel the presence of them in underlying layers of every moment. But the pain has changed. The part of me that lives in the embrace of them can still hurt, but it can also expand into an overwhelming gratitude.

When Matt was eight days old he had major surgery. We didn’t know if he was going to live or die and the prognosis was not good. When the surgeon walked in the waiting room, I knew Matt had lived. When the surgeon left, I looked at Lydia and said over and over in both relief and celebration, “We get to keep him.”

In the unfolding of my Afterloss I have found my pain has changed into a catalyst for healing. And the only way I can get to it is to go through it.

I can now hold my sorrow and my serenity, my sadness and my joy… and my pain. And I have found in my world of the Afterloss the beauty of what I get to keep. I have found that love lasts forever.

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